David Barratt, who is putting a ukelele version of a Beatles song on the web weekly on his website www.thebeatlescompleteonukelele.com, accomplished a bit of a coup this week with the latest addition on Tuesday. It’s a version of “Let It Be” with President Barack Obama on vocals and the backing of a choir. You can hear the song in the video, which includes images of Paul McCartney, Stevie Wonder and Sarah Palin, at left. We interviewed Barratt by email and asked him about the new song and the project as a whole.
Q: How did you get President Obama involved in this?
David Barratt: The President was sampled from his weekly address that is sent out from The White House every Saturday. I listened to speeches word by word and assembled the entire vocal. Unfortunately The President was dealing with slightly more important issues at that time, so naturally appearing on our recording was not top of his agenda. However, should he wish to re-do the vocal, I’d be honored to come to Washington to record him.
Q: How was it recorded and how was his voice added in?
David Barratt: I started re-recording the entire Beatles catlog and re-releasing them about two years ago. Every week we release another song. It’s a pretty gruelling schedule but also a lot of fun. I came up with the idea to do “Let It Be” as a gospel arrangement because it was originally recorded in a faux-gospel style. I cut the backing track on my own, Ira Siegel added uke, Brian August played piano. A friend of mine (Greg Clark) is a vocal arranger in NYC and he put together an amazing group of singers. If there was record made in New York in the last fifteen years that needed a backing vocalist it is likely that one of the singers we used was on the session. Nicky Richards, John James, Tabitha Fair, Keith Fluitt, Janice Pendarvis, Jenny Douglas and the other singers are the best there are. It was a fantastic session – one of the easiest and most fun things I’ve ever done in the studio.
Now to get a voice to front that you need a pretty big personality. President Obama is one of the most charismatic humans on the planet. I had always wanted to use his voice as it is so distinctive. Not only that, he is Hawaian, which means he shares an ancestry with the ukulele, which makes him a perfect candidate for the project. I went through his radio/internet addresses which he makes every week and edited the lyric word by word. It was not as difficult as I first expected – it took about two days. Obama’s voice works on many levels so his vocal delivery was perfect for this the song. I stared to put the video together mainly from concert footage from inside The White House, including Paul McCartney, Stevie Wonder, the Jonas Bros, Jerry Sienfield, Blind Boys of Alabama,, Jack White, and all the others. It was John Philp’s (my co-editor’s) idea to add Sarah Palin in the first chorus. It was a lot of fun putting the whole thing together.
Q: What Beatle songs on “The Beatles Complete on Ukelele” were the most challenging?
David Barratt: I think the best known are the hardest to do. It is very difficult to do “All You Need Is Love” or “A Day In The Life” better than the original so I always try and find a relevant way of arranging the songs. “All You Need Is Love” was stripped down to solo ukulele and a single voice and we re-imagined “A Day In The Life” as if Paul had written John’s bit and John had written Paul’s bit. Some of my least favorite songs have ended up being the best recordings. We totally re-thought “Ob-La-Di-Ob-La-Da” as a scene from a Samuel Becket play and “Don’t Pass Me By”, which in my opinion is probably the worst Beatle song, turned out great when Kenny White did it a bluegrass/country style.
There are lots of songs we have not done that I’d like to record with particular artists. 1. Paul McCartney – I’d love for him to record George Harrison’s “Something” in Strawberry Fields NY or somewhere in Liverpool with Ringo playing percussion.
2. Vladimir Putin – Who better to do “Back In The USSR. Again, an intriguing character and another hyper-charismatic human being. He can sing too. There is a vid of him singing “Blueberry Hill” . Vlad – if you are reading this you can call me ANYTIME. 3. Jake Shimabukuro – Probably the leading Uke player on earth at the moment. He can do whatever he wants and it always sounds great. 4. The Rolling Stones – I love Mick. I love Keith. It would be great to do a song with ‘em. They did start the career with a Beatles song (“I Wanna Be Your Man”). 5. Mark Zuckenberg – I can see him doing “Can’t Buy Me Love.”
Q: When will the whole ‘Beatles Complete on Ukelele’ project be completed?
David Barratt: The final song, which logically enough will be “The End” from Abbey Road, will come out on July 31 2012 – 3 1/2 years after the project was begun. “Let It Be,” which came out on 1.11.11 was our 104th release so we are over half way through.
Q: Are you moving on to solo Beatle songs?
David Barratt: No. I think the 1962-1970 collection is a perfect set and I think I’ll leave it at that. That paticular body of work is remarkable for several reasons. 1. The music is great and infinitely endures. 2. They have a unique place in music and culture.
Q: Any other related projects (other artists)?
David Barratt: On International Ukulele Day we will be presenting ukuleles to the 10 most powerful people on the planet. Along with the ukulele we will include a simple instructional video on how to play “Let It Be”, a chord chart and a copy of our manifesto which is – “The Beatles Complete On Ukulele hold this truth to be self-evident: if every citizen spent “a little bit of time” playing The Ukulele the world would be a nicer place.”
As far as other projects go I am trying to get my project www.KARITO.org which I exhibited at The UN General Assembly to be exhibited in London during The Olympics in 2012 and am looking for funding as we speak. Any multi-national corporations that want to fund Karito let me know.
As far as the web goes I’m already working on a more ambitious project than even “The Beatles Complete On Ukulele.” I’ve registered a site called www.theobituarycolumn.com. Every week I will create a piece of music in the form of an obituary or requiem and publish it on the site. This week for example, Pete Postlewaite, Gerry Rafferty and Mick Kahn all died. I would pick one of them and create a song about or for them and publish it. But it needn’t be someone famous. I could write with someone about their father, mother dog or milkman. I’d like to work with a team of writers and producers so eventually it could survive after my own death.
- You can download the full mp3 for “Let It Be” at this link
- Website: The Beatles Complete on Ukelele.com
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